Michigan Dems, GOP lace up for 10-week sprint to general election

Lansing — Michigan Democrats and Republicans finalized their tickets this weekend during spirited party conventions, nominating candidates for several statewide offices while rallying activists for what is now a 10-week sprint to the general election.

The Democratic gathering in East Lansing functioned as a hometown celebration for gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer. Officials touted unity after the party settled several internal debates between progressive and establishment activists in the Aug. 7 primary and a March endorsement convention.

“We have been angry. We have been fearful. Now is the time to organize,” said incumbent U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who will try to win re-election over GOP businessman and military veteran John James this fall.

Republican delegates chose House Speaker Tom Leonard as the party’s nominee for attorney general to take on Democrat Dana Nessel. Eastern Michigan University Regent Marty Treder Lang to take on Democratic Secretary of State candidate Jocelyn Benson.

Some cracks in attempted unity were evident at the Republican gathering in Lansing, where some delegates booed Michigan Supreme Court Justice Clement over recent rulings as she was nominated for re-election by voice vote.

But gubernatorial hopeful Bill Schuette, U.S. Senate candidate John James and other Republicans turned their eyes to November as they embarked on a 20-city, four-day “Results Not Resistance” bus tour.

"The election belongs to those who show up," Leonard told the crowd at Saturday’s convention. "We need every one of you in November.”

Former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed, a favorite of the progressive left who finished second in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, is expected to rally with Whitmer and her running mate Garlin Gilchrist on Monday in Detroit and Dearborn. He spoke in support of Nessel at the convention.

“I’ve got a daughter I’m raising in Michigan, and I don’t want to raise that daughter in Bill Schuette’s Michigan,” El-Sayed told The Detroit News, explaining his continued involvement in the campaign. “I hope to do as much as I can and as much as the ticket asks me to really get behind it and support.”

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who finished second to Schuette in the Republican primary, urged convention delegates to unite behind party candidates in order to continue the state’s economic rebound.

Calley has offered to publicly backed Schuette, but did not mention him by name Saturday. Nor did Gov. Rick Snyder, who has not endorsed Schuette and addressed the convention in a video message.

“I want you to do exactly what I’m doing and that is supporting the top of our ticket all the way to the bottom of the ticket,” Calley said.

Schuette told reporters he wasn’t worried by the lack of a formal endorsement from Calley and Snyder and wasn’t obsessed with the “magic words.” 

He thanked Calley and Snyder in a convention speech Saturday before touting his “paychecks and jobs” agenda while comparing Whitmer to former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, whose tenure was marked by economic woes and the Great Recession.

“We’re going to win it all in 2018,” Schuette told reporters. “The margin will be tight, but you know what 51-49, 52-48 is fine with me.”

Republican leadership, Schuette and Leonard included, urged voters to come out to the polls to avoid the potential election of a Democrat-controlled government led by what they called “far left” and “extreme fringe” candidates.

While there may be differences among individuals, Republicans are unified behind recent GOP accomplishments, said state party chairman Ron Weiser.

"They're unified because they're very pleased with where things are right now," Weiser told reporters. "This state has turned around from where it was in the last decade under the Granholm years."

The Michigan Democratic Party ticket.

Dems: Don’t bet on ‘blue wave’

Political experts say the mid-term election could bode well for Democrats, who are currently the minority party in both Lansing and Washington D.C. But two years after Republican President Donald Trump scored a surprise win in Michigan, party leaders warned activists against assuming Democratic strength.

“I want a blue wave, but that blue wave isn’t going to happen if we keep talking about it,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn. “It’s going to happen when we take nothing for granted and roll up our sleeves.”

Democrats need to talk about issues that matter to working families and remind them “elections have consequences,” Dingell told activists in a state party convention speech at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee offered a similar call to action.

“We can’t win just by running against Donald Trump and Bill Schuette," Kildee said. "We saw what happened two years ago. I’ll tell you my friends, I don’t know about you, but I’m just exhausted by noble defeat."

Democrats on Saturday nominated candidates for statewide education posts. A closely-watched race for two seats on the MSU Board of Trustees won by Muskegon attorney Brianna Scott and Kelly Tebay, a fundraiser for United Way of Southeast Michigan.

Sunday, party members formally nominated Gilchrist, Nessel and Benson along with Supreme Court candidates Megan Cavanagh and Sam Bagenstos, who had been endorsed in March.

“This election is bigger than any one of us, it is about every one of us,” Whitmer said. “Government works best when passionate people participate, when we debate ideas, when we work together to solve problems. And right now we have a job to do.”

Nessel, a favorite of the progressive left would be the state’s first openly gay attorney general, promised to shut down Enbridge's controversial Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac while bashing Republicans who "eat at the trough of oil and gas companies."

Dana Nessel accepts Michigan Democratic Party nomination for attorney general.

Candidates spar

A Plymouth Township lawyer best known for helping topple the state’s gay marriage ban, Nessel said she would fight for civil rights and defended her prior work as a criminal defense attorney, noting it is an “essential role in our system of justice.”

“Tom Leonard, you cannot be anti-public corruption and pro-Donald Trump at the same time,” she said. “Those things are mutually exclusive.”

Leonard, a DeWitt Republican, called himself the only candidate in the race who is “focused on protecting Michigan residents and not playing far-left and divisive political games.”

A former state and Genesee County assistant prosecutor, Leonard said he has a “strong track record of standing up to violent crime, reforming our state’s mental health system and fighting sex crimes and human trafficking.”

Leonard bested state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker for the GOP attorney general nomination. Treder Lang topped Michigan State University professor Joseph Guzman for the Republican’s Secretary of State nomination.

In the U.S. Senate race, James on Saturday compared Stabenow to a 1975 Pacer and himself to a 2019 Dodge Ram. Stabenow was first elected to political office 43 years ago, the same year as the Pacer’s creation, which was greeted with “admiration.”

“The vehicle was introduced to the American people as something different than the status quo,” James’ campaign said in a statement Saturday. “Despite fanfare from the press and initial hype, the Pacer quickly fell out of favor, and production ceased just five years later, in 1980.”

Stabenow jabbed James during her convention speech Sunday, noting the Farmington Hills businessman has touted his support for Trump, who endorsed him and Schuette in the Republican primary.

“I want you to know that when my opponent says he stands with Donald Trump ‘2,000 percent,’ I stand with Michigan 2,000 percent,” she said.

Stabenow chastised Republicans for what she called a “war” on health care and attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

“Democrats are ready to lead and ready to get things done for people – not just wealthy people. Not just powerful people,” Stabenow said. “We want everybody to have a fair shot.”

Supreme Court showdown

Appointed last fall to the state Supreme Court by Snyder, Clement faced some push back from Republicans because of her support of a 4-3 ruling that would allow an independent redistricting commission proposal to make it to the November ballot.

While introducing Clement Saturday, Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz had to ask to the booing crowd to allow him continue. Officials declared a “yay” and “nay” vote in favor of Clement's nomination, thought delegates shouting nay were nearly as loud as those in support.

"There's some people who didn't like one or two of her decisions, there's always people like that in any group," Weiser told reporters after the convention.

Republicans also nominated Justice Kurtis Wilder for re-election. He and Clement will attempt to hold the seats and withstand challenges from Bagenstos and Cavanagh, who are hoping to reshape the 5-2 majority GOP court.

Cavanagh, an appellate attorney and daughter of former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Cavanagh, said “the voters want someone who will not just be a justice, but someone who will do justice.”

Bagenstos, a civil rights attorney and University of Michigan Law School professor, said state courts are increasingly important because of “what Donald Trump is doing” to federal courts, including his nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We need to have a strong, independent Michigan Supreme Court that understands the importance of fighting for people’s rights,” he said.

Supreme Court candidates are nominated by political parties but appear on the non-partisan section of the general election ballot.